Dungy Visits, Lewis Next?

Former Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy is the latest coach to visit the Panthers as they continue their search for a new head coach. Most believe that Indianapolis is the leading candidate for his services, but he isn't ruling Carolina out, "I think the biggest thing I've heard is about the ownership and how it's first-class and they've got great facilities and good people. And I think that's what you want to be around."

The belief around the league is that Indianapolis is leading for Dungy for a lot of reasons. It starts with the Colts offensive weapons.

But, Dungy admits he doesn't know a lot about what the Panthers have, "(The Bucs) haven't played them since 1998 and I've seen them on tape a little bit against teams that we prepared for, but not a whole lot and not in depth," Dungy said. "I'm sure they want to find out about me and I have a few questions for them. I think this is a process of getting to know each other to see if it's a good fit."

The other factor that may work against the Panthers is the fact that the Panthers and Tampa Bay will be in the same division starting next year. But, during his visit, Dungy intimated that that could be fun instead.

The Panthers are expected to take a run at Baltimore defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis now that he's out of the playoffs. Last year, Lewis was the hottest name around, but by the time the Ravens won the Super Bowl, the jobs were all but filled.

The problem now is, the Panthers are running up against their self-imposed deadline for having a new head coach in place. They've told Giants defensive coordinator Jon Fox that they wanted the process done by Tuesday, January 22nd. That way, he can spend time putting his staff together during the Senior Bowl.

If the Panthers wait much longer, they may end up losing their prime target (if there is, indeed, one ahead of the others).

With Tampa Bay now in the mix, the timetable could be forced a little. The Bucs are believed to be after Oakland coach Jon Gruden. But, Gruden said on Monday that he intends to fulfill his contract with the Raiders, which runs through the 2002 season.

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